Beijing: Using melatonin hormone can provide better quality sleep compared to using an eye mask and earplugs in a noisy and illuminated environment, researchers report.
Melatonin is the hormone secreted by the body to regulate sleep, usually in periods of darkness. Synthetically produced melatonin is used to boost the body's own melatonin levels to treat some sleep disorders and sometimes as a means of overcoming jet lag.
"Both use of oral melatonin and use of earplugs and eye masks improve sleep quality at different levels, especially melatonin. Discomfort from use of earplugs and eye masks might affect sleep quality which was not reported with melatonin," explained lead researcher professor Xiu-Ming Xi from Fuxing Hospital, Capital Medical University in Beijing.
In intensive care units (ICUs), disturbances throughout the night caused by noise and light have been linked to slower recovery.
For the study published in open access journal Critical Care, researchers recruited 40 healthy participants to study the effects simulated ICU conditions had on sleep patterns.
After the first four nights, the participants were randomly divided into four equal groups but continued to sleep in the simulated ICU. The first group did not receive any sleep aid. The second were provided with eye masks and earplugs.
The third group took one mg of fast-release oral melatonin when going to bed. The final group of participants was given a placebo.
It was found that all sleep patterns were disturbed by exposure to the simulated ICU environment. This resulted in feelings of anxiety and reduced quality of sleep.
Those participants that used either eye masks and earplugs or oral melatonin had improved sleep.
"Those who took melatonin were found to have decreased awakenings during the night even compared to the eye mask and earplugs group," Xi noted.
The quality of the sleep was also found to be much improved for those taking melatonin, with reported lower anxiety levels. Future studies need to be carried out on a larger group of diverse participants, the team concluded.